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Efficiency

University of Utah

A Novel Chemical Pathway for Titanium Production

The University of Utah is developing a reactor that dramatically simplifies titanium production compared to conventional processes. Today's production processes are expensive and inefficient because they require several high-energy melting steps to separate titanium from its ores. The University of Utah's reactor utilizes a magnesium hydride solution as a reducing agent to break less expensive titanium ore into its components in a single step. By processing low-grade ore directly, the titanium can be chemically isolated from other impurities. This design eliminates the series of complex, high-energy melting steps associated with current titanium production. Consolidating several energy intensive steps into one reduces both the cost and energy inputs associated with titanium extraction.

University of Utah

Electrodynamic Sorting of Light Metals and Alloys

The University of Utah is developing a light metal sorting system that can distinguish multiple grades of scrap metal using an adjustable and varying magnetic field. Current sorting technologies based on permanent magnets can only separate light metals from iron-based metals and tend to be inefficient and expensive. The University of Utah's sorting technology utilizes an adjustable magnetic field rather than a permanent magnet to automate scrap sorting, which could offer increased accuracy, less energy consumption, lower CO2 emissions, and reduced costs. Due to the flexibility of this design, the system could be set to sort for any one metal at a time rather than being limited to sorting for a specific metal.

University of Wisconsin

Optimized Air-Side Heat Transfer Surfaces via Advance Additive Manufacturing

The University of Wisconsin (UW-Madison) and its partner Oak Ridge National Laboratory will develop enabling technologies for low-cost, high-performance air-cooled heat exchangers. The objective is to create an optimization algorithm in order to identify and design a novel heat exchanger topology with very high heat transfer performance. The team also plans to develop a high-thermal conductivity polymer composite filament that can be used in additive manufacturing (3D printing) to produce the high-performance heat exchanger design. Due to the design freedom enabled by additive manufacturing, the team plans to develop 3D heat exchanger geometries that optimize heat transfer and decrease the total footprint required for an air-cooled system. Both of these innovations could enhance air-side heat transfer and improve the efficiency and cost of heat exchangers.

University of Wisconsin

WBG-Enabled Current-Source Inverters for Integrated PM Machine Drives

The University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) and its project team will develop new integrated motor drives (IMDs) using current-source inverters (CSIs). Recent advances in both silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) wide-bandgap semiconductor devices make these power switches well-suited for the selected CSI topology that the team plans to integrate into high-efficiency electric motors with spinning permanent magnets. The objective is to take advantage of the special performance characteristics of the technology to increase the penetration of variable-speed drives into heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) applications. Many of the HVAC installations in the U.S. residential and commercial sectors still use constant-speed motors even though there is a well-recognized potential for major energy savings available by converting them to variable-speed operation. If successful, the new IMDs will be capable of producing significant energy savings in a wide variety of industrial, commercial, and residential applications ranging from air conditioners to pumps and compressors.

Valparaiso University

Solar Thermal Electrolytic Production of Mg from MgO

Valparaiso University is developing a solar electro-thermal reactor that produces magnesium from magnesium oxide. Current magnesium production processes involve high-temperature steps that consume large amounts of energy. Valparaiso's reactor would extract magnesium using concentrated solar power to supply its thermal energy, minimizing the need for electricity. The reactor would be surrounded by mirrors that track the sun and capture heat for high-temperature magnesium electrolysis. Because Valparaiso's reactor is powered by solar energy as opposed to burning fossil fuels, integrating magnesium production into the solar reactor would significantly reduce CO2 emissions associated with magnesium production.

Virginia Commonwealth University

Discovery & Design of Novel Permanent Magnets Using Non-Strategic Elements Having Secure Supply Chains

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is developing a new magnet for use in renewable power generators and EV motors that requires no rare earth minerals. Rare earths are difficult and expensive to process, but they make electric motors and generators smaller, lighter, and more efficient. VCU would replace the rare earth minerals in EV motor magnets with a low-cost and abundant carbon-based compound that resembles a fine black powder. This new magnet could demonstrate the same level of performance as the best commercial magnets available today at a significantly lower cost. The ultimate goal of this project is to demonstrate this new magnet in a prototype electric motor.

Virginia Commonwealth University

Fabrication of Inexpensive Aerogel Panes for Window Retrofit

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) will develop innovative methods to produce aerogel-on-glass windowpanes for window retrofits. Silica aerogels are porous materials that can be used to control heat transfer across windows. However, widespread use of silica aerogels in windows has been limited by their mechanical fragility, difficulties with transparency, and high manufacturing costs. The team will use newly developed cross-linked aerogels that significantly improve the mechanical strength and durability of aerogels. Aerogels are typically produced through either air drying or supercritical drying. Air drying is inexpensive, but induces stresses that can lead to fragmentation. Supercritical drying is superior, but is expensive. VCU will employ an alternative drying method, freeze drying, in which the material is frozen and ice is sublimated off. VCU estimates that aerogel production using freeze drying can cut production costs by about 40% compared to supercritical drying. VCU's aerogel material would be placed between a glass pane and polycarbonate films to produce an effective windowpane for single-pane window retrofits.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Single DC Source Based Cascaded Multilevel Inverter 

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) will develop a wide-bandgap-based, high power (100 kW) DC-to-AC inverter that can receive power from sources like batteries or solar panels and transfer it directly to the medium voltage level of the utility grid. The team will also integrate the device with an existing medium voltage AC-to-DC converter to build a bidirectional solid-state transformer that converts low-voltage AC to high-voltage AC without using heavy, low-frequency materials such as copper and iron in its design. The hardware prototype will be packaged with a high power density design, having the potential to reduce size by two orders of magnitude over the current solid-state transformers. The cooling system is minimized due to the high efficiency and implementation of a convection-cooled heat sink. If successful, the project could lead to the first commercially viable medium voltage solid-state transformer, using just a single-stage process to obtain high efficiency power conversion.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Isolated Converter with Integrated Passives and Low Material Stress

The Center for Power Electronics Systems (CPES) at Virginia Tech is developing an extremely efficient power converter that could be used in power adapters for small, light-weight laptops and other types of mobile electronic devices. Power adapters convert electrical energy into usable power for an electronic device, and they currently waste a lot of energy when they are plugged into an outlet to power up. CPES is integrating high-density capacitors, new magnetic materials, high-frequency integrated circuits, and a constant-flux transformer to create its efficient power converter. The high-density capacitors enable the power adapter to store more energy. The new magnetic materials also increase energy storage, and they can be precisely dispensed using a low-cost ink-jet printer which keeps costs down. The high-frequency integrated circuits can handle more power, and they can handle it more efficiently. And, the constant-flux transformer processes a consistent flow of electrical current, which makes the converter more efficient.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

High Power Density 10-kV SiC-MOSFET-based Modular, Scalable Power Converters for Medium Voltage Applications

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and its project team will develop high power, high voltage AC-to-DC and DC-to-DC modular power converters with a circuit configuration optimized for silicon carbide (SiC) semiconductors. In medium voltage and high voltage applications, multilevel modular converters are the favored architecture that overcomes the limitations of Si. Such architecture requires high frequency galvanic isolation to attain higher operating voltages. This project seeks to develop modular power converters optimized for SiC devices without any galvanic isolation, by harnessing two unique circuit operating modes of this power converter, transforming its intrinsic operation into one that favors high switching frequency. The team will pursue three primary applications for their proposed 2 MW, high-efficiency (99%) power converter: 1) electric motor drives, 2) power inverters for grid-scale use, and 3) a DC-to-DC converters for microgrid applications. If successful, the project's optimized circuit designs could open the door for more SiC-based, high power, medium-voltage converters.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Power Supplies on a Chip

The Center for Power Electronics Systems (CPES) at Virginia Tech is finding ways to save real estate on a computer's motherboard that could be used for other critical functions. Every computer processor today contains a voltage regulator that automatically maintains a constant level of electricity entering the device. These regulators contain bulky components and take up about 30% of a computer's motherboard. CPES is developing a voltage regulator that uses semiconductors made of gallium nitride on silicon (GaN-on-Si) and high-frequency soft magnetic material. These materials are integrated on a small, 3D chip that can handle the same amount of power as traditional voltage regulators at 1/10 the size and with improved efficiency. The small size also frees up to 90% of the motherboard space occupied by current voltage regulators.

Yale University

Power Generation from Waste Heat with Closed-Loop Membrane-Based System

Yale University is developing a system to generate electricity using low-temperature waste heat from power plants, industrial facilities, and geothermal wells. Low-temperature waste heat is a vast, mostly untapped potential energy source. Yale's closed loop system begins with waste heat as an input. This waste heat will separate an input salt water stream into two output streams, one with high salt concentration and one with low salt concentration. In the next stage, the high and low concentration salt streams will be recombined. Mixing these streams releases energy which can then be captured. The mixed saltwater stream is then sent back to the waste heat source, allowing the process to begin again. Yale's system for generating electricity from low-temperature waste heat could considerably increase the efficiency of power generation systems.

Yale University

Regrowth and Selective Area Growth of GaN for Vertical Power Electronics

Yale University will conduct a comprehensive investigation to overcome the barriers in selective area doping of gallium nitride (GaN) through an epitaxial regrowth process for high-performance, reliable GaN vertical transistors. Transistors based on GaN have emerged as promising candidates for future high efficiency, high power applications, but they have been plagued by poor electrical performance attributed to the existing selective doping processes. The team will demonstrate vertical GaN diodes through a selective area regrowth processes with performance similar to those made using current in situ techniques, which are non-selective and therefore less flexible. Key innovations in this project will be to use three-dimensional nanoscale characterizations to understand the regrowth interface formation at the nano scale, and to apply atomic-level manipulation to control impurities, and suppress extrinsic and intrinsic defects at the selective area regrowth interface. This will enable the electronic characteristics of the selective area growth p-n junction active region to be customized allowing for high performance GaN vertical transistors. The successful production of reliable and high-performance GaN vertical transistors on bulk substrates will be transformative to many mid-voltage applications including photovoltaic inverters, motor control, and hybrid automotive.

The ARPA-E model is unique in that the agency does not just provide teams funding. Throughout the lifetime of an ARPA-E award, ARPA-E Program Directors and Tech-to-Market Advisors also provide teams with expert advice through quarterly reviews and onsite visits. This hands-on approach helps ensure teams can meet ambitious milestones, target and tackle problems early on, and advance their technologies towards commercialization. Program Director Dr. Isik Kizilyalli explains the importance of this active project management approach in helping teams identify and overcome barriers. In this video, Energy Storage Systems (ESS) from the GRIDS program and Monolith Semiconductors from the SWITCHES program discuss how ARPA-E’s active project management approach helped them find solutions to technical challenges.

ARPA-E brings together experts from diverse disciplines and industries to frame new ways of looking at the energy challenge. By viewing the problem through a different lens, ARPA-E brings together new capabilities to develop new technology solutions. The DELTA and MONITOR programs illustrate this novel approach well. In this video, Associate Director of Technology Dr. Patrick McGrath discusses how ARPA-E has reframed the challenge of building efficiency with the DELTA program and methane leaks with the MONITOR program differently in order to yield “out of left field” technologies that can lead to transformational gains. The video features two projects – University of California San Diego’s DELTA project and Rebellion Photonics’ MONITOR project.

ARPA-E is supporting some of the best and brightest scientific minds across the country to turn aspirational ideas into tangible technology options. By presenting an ambitious energy challenge to the U.S. research and development community, ARPA-E attracts ideas from a diverse group of innovators, representing traditional and non-traditional energy backgrounds, who look to address energy challenges in new and exciting ways. Founder and CEO of Alveo Energy Dr. Colin Wessels and Co-Founder and CEO of Indoor Reality Dr. Avideh Zakhor are two ARPA-E project investigators that have made great progress, with support from the ARPA-E Tech-to-Market team, in advancing their technologies out of the lab and into the marketplace.

ARPA-E helps to translate cutting-edge inventions into technological innovations that could change how we use, generate and store energy. In just seven years, ARPA-E technologies are demonstrating technical and commercial progress, surpassing $1.25 billion in private sector follow on funding. In this video, ARPA-E Director Dr. Ellen D. Williams highlights an exciting project from Stanford University that is developing a radiative cooling technology that could enable buildings, power plants, solar cells and even clothing to cool without using electric power or loss of water. This project is just one example among ARPA-E’s 400+ innovative technologies that are reimagining energy and helping to create a more secure, affordable and sustainable American energy future.

ARPA-E’s Modern Electro/Thermochemical Advances in Light Metals Systems (METALS) program seeks cost-effective and energy-efficient technologies to process and recycle metals for lightweight vehicles and aircraft. ARPA-E Program Director Dr. David Tew discusses the METALS program and explains how reducing the amount of energy and money it takes to recycle or process light metals like titanium or aluminum may enable competition with heavier incumbents like steel. This video highlights two METALS projects: UHV Technologies, which has developed a first-of-its-kind automatic scrap metal sorter to reduce the cost of metal recycling, and the University of Utah, which has discovered a new chemical process to extract titanium powder directly from ore—reducing cost and energy consumption. 

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